KANSAS CITY, Mo. — All that time off the clock. All those plays. All those yards.
The Broncos were hanging with the once-mighty Kansas City Chiefs before a pick six by safety Daniel Sorensen in the fourth quarter removed suspense. The Broncos fell to the Chiefs 22-9 in this primetime-viewing Sunday night game at Arrowhead (GEHA Field) Stadium, wasting a strong performance by rookie Javonte Williams, who finished with 102 yards rushing, 76 yards receiving, about two dozen broken tackles and maybe a couple thousand new fans.
"Even though I played good, the locker room is still not happy,'' Williams said. "It was all right, but it’s hard to celebrate after a loss, especially to the Chiefs.”
“We have to be able to score more points, no matter who you are playing, especially the Chiefs at home,'' said Broncos head coach Vic Fangio.
Down, 22-3 after a deflected Teddy Bridgewater fourth-and-2 pass was intercepted by Sorensen, who returned it 75 yards for a back-breaking touchdown, the Broncos answered with their only touchdown of the game. With about 5 minutes remaining, Bridgewater on fourth-and-7 connected with Williams open in the left flat for a 13-yard touchdown.
But the visitors' inability to finish a methodical 20-play, 11-minute, 17-second drive that took up nearly the entire second quarter went for naught with the possible exception that Williams’ rushing did keep Chiefs' great quarterback Patrick Mahomes on the sidelines. The drive ended on a fourth-and-2 run play that was stuffed for a loss.
“In a drive like that, when you’re in a situation where you get the ball really backed up then take the ball all the way down the field and you don’t score, it just sucks, man,'' Bridgewater said.
“Frustrating,'' said Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton, who was held to two catches for 15 yards -- his fifth consecutive game of two catches or less. "I mean that is all I can really say. It is frustrating.”
The Chiefs, who entered this game with five consecutive AFC West Division titles, have now won 12 games in a row against the Broncos. Kansas City also won its fifth straight retained its division lead for yet another year with an 8-4 record. The Chiefs are the only team in NFL history to have a winning streak of at least five games in 9 consecutive seasons.
The Broncos fell to 6-6. They play the 1-10-1 Detroit Lions next Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High. With five games remaining and only one game out of the No. 6 and 7 AFC playoff seeds, the Broncos' season is far from finished. But they would have sold Broncos Country that they were legitimate playoff contenders had they played better against the Chiefs.
For seemingly the entire second quarter, the Broncos had the ball. After falling behind 10-0 in the first quarter, the Broncos got a field goal early in the second to draw closer to the heavily-favored Chiefs. Denver then got the ball back on its own 3-yard line with 12 minutes 16 seconds left in the first half.
Barreling down the field went Williams and, for the first time this season, his backup Mike Boone.
Mix in a couple short Bridgewater completions and the Broncos’ possession lasted 20 plays. It ticked off more than 11 minutes while Mahomes sat and watched from the bench. The Broncos travelled to the Chiefs’ 8 yard line, but it was fourth-and-2. Earlier in the drive, with the ball at the Chiefs’ 43, it was fourth and 7 but Fangio went for it.
And got it. Bridgewater converted that situation by hitting Sutton on a slant pass. And so rather than take the field goal after all that time, all those plays, and all that way, Fangio went for it again, this time on fourth-and-2 from the 8. In a bit of a mixup, Williams - who thought Bridgewater was supposed to be in the shotgun position instead of under center and reacted with the predictable confusion -- was stuffed for a 1-yard loss.
Seriously? The Broncos went 88 yards on 20 plays while possessing the ball for 11 minutes, 7 seconds. Zero points. Did Fangio consider taking the short field goal? Because, you know, after 20 plays, 3 points would have been none?
“There was, but very little,'' Fangio said. "I am comfortable with that decision. We had converted a couple of fourth downs to keep it going. One was fourth and 7, I believe. You guys just got done grilling me about the points. You have to score touchdowns to beat this team.”
It took a couple series on both sides of the ball for the Broncos to get going. In a rare move after winning the coin toss, Fangio elected to take the ball first rather than defer to the second half. The idea was to get the Broncos’ offense in rhythm early. And maybe to make sure the Chiefs’ high-powered offense didn’t put the Broncos in an early hole.
Sound reasoning that didn’t go as planned. With the Chiefs’ defense bringing pressure, the Broncos went three-and-out on their first two possessions.
"The defense again had a nice game here,'' said Chiefs' coach Andy Reid, whose team extended its winning streak to five games -- the 9th consecutive season Kansas City has had a streak of at least five straight wins, an NFL record. "It was beautiful to watch, the pressure we put on Teddy and the way we were able to sustain against the run game.
"They’re obviously a good football team. Vic Fangio is a heck of a football coach. Offensively, we did some good things and then we had probably too many drops and penalties in there. That’s my responsibility, I’ll get that straightened out.''
Still, on his first drive, Mahomes patiently moved his Chiefs methodically down the field on a 12-play, 72-yard series that had a good mix of runs and shallow-cross completions to speedster Tyreek Hill.
Mahomes finished the drive with a 10-yard scramble around right end for a touchdown. The Chiefs were up early, 7-0, defer or no defer.
The Chiefs moved the ball on their second possession, too, thanks to a 29-yard screen pass to running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. But Denver rookie outside linebacker Jonathan Cooper made a terrific play on another screen late in the drive and the Chiefs settled for a 56-yard field goal by Harrison Butker. His kick bounced off the left upright and in for a 10-0 lead.
Again on their third series, the Broncos’ offense started at their 25. This time Bridgewater began by hitting an open Jerry Jeudy for a 36-yard gain. The Broncos moved to the Chiefs’ 14, but an offensive pass interference penalty on Sutton – who got caught blocking early on a completion to Jeudy – and an intentional grounding penalty on Bridgewater pushed the ball back.
Brandon McManus bailed out the drive by making a 42-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
It was 10-3 and the Broncos were back in the game. The Denver defense came up with a stop on the Chiefs, forcing a punt. A penalty during Dionate Spencer's return moved the ball back to the 3-yard line. With the Broncos' offense huddling up from its own end zone, and No. 1 riunning back Melvin Gordon III back in Denver resting from a hip injury, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur called on Williams.
Who plowed ahead, time after time. Five consecutive carries by Williams and Boone moved the ball out to the 35 before Bridgewater attempted his first pass. Bridgewater then started doing his part by mixing in short completions. The Broncos had advanced to the Chiefs’ 43, third and 7. Under pressure, Bridgewater threw it away. Fourth and 7 at the Chiefs’ 43.
Surprisingly, but not really, Fangio went for it. Bridgewater calmly hit Sutton on a slant for 11 yards. Then more Williams. He rushed for another first down to the Chiefs’ 16 while Kansas City star defensive lineman Chris Jones was kneeling on the sideline getting a breather. But the series died a few plays later on another fourth down attempt.
Mahomes was only 15 of 29 for 184 yards with an interception. His 57.3 passer rating was the worst regular-season grade of his 58-game career.
“I’ve learned as my career has gone on that you can’t get caught up in the hype and the show of playing,'' Mahomes said. "I’ve been in a lot of football games where we’ve scored a lot of points and lost. I promise you, when you win football games like this, it feels a lot better. I don’t know if that’s just with experience, but I preach that to these guys. They were running the ball and trying to grind the clock through, I told them to not let it affect how we play. Just execute, go out there and put points on the board because our defense is playing the way that they’re playing. You have to learn how to manage games, you have to learn how to win football games when it’s not pretty and I think we’ve done a great job of that this season.”
Bridgewater was 22 of 40 for 257 yards. He had three potential interceptions go through the hands of Chiefs’ defenders in the first half and the two second-half picks that weren't dropped. Williams had 102 yards rushing on a career-most 23 carries, plus another six catches for 76 yards.
The second half continued to be a tough, hard-fought battle of wills, although the Broncos collapsed amid three turnovers.
The Chiefs made the first mistake when they had a decent drive snuffed out when Mahomes threw a tad hot and high to Hill, who muffed it and the ball bounced into cornerback Pat Surtain II's hands for his third interception in two games.
But Bridgewater threw a bad pick when he didn't see safety Juan Thornhill jump a curl route run by Jeudy. On the final play of the third quarter, Spencer was ran into by his own Caden Sterns while trying to field a punt. Sterns was blocked into Spencer but the muff gave the Chiefs the ball at the Broncos' 18.
PHOTOS | Broncos at Chiefs
And yet the Denver D stopped the Chiefs one yard short of a first down and settled for another Butker field goal. The Chiefs were up 16-3 early in the fourth quarter.
There would be another fourth and 2 for the Broncos' offense, this time in the fourth quarter and from the Chiefs' 27. Bridgewater had his short pass deflected at the line by blitzing linebacker Ben Niemann and the deflection popped right into the hands of Sorensen, who returned it 75 yards for a touchdown. Bridgewater made a tackle attempt, by the way, but couldn't slow Sorensen. Butker missed the extra point to keep the Chiefs lead at 22-3 with 9:42 remaining. Ballgame.
“Kareem Jackson said it best in the locker room,'' Bridgewater said of his veteran safety teammate. "That we have five games left and each one is a playoff game for us All we want to do is focus on one day at a time, one week at a time, one opponent at a time.”
The Broncos' remaining five games: Home against the Lions; home against the 7-5 Bengals; on the road against the 6-6 Raiders, on the road against the 7-5 Chargers and back home for a final game against the Chiefs.
At 6-6, the Broncos most likely have to win five of five to get a wild-card berth. And even then, then may need a tiebreaker to fall their way.
It does appear the Broncos are getting closer to matching up against the Chiefs. They compete better. Mahomes doesn't rack up 35 points with ease anymore.
“One thousand percent,'' Sutton said.
Still, the skid continues. Twelve consecutive losses over more than six years.
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